Saturday, November 21, 2009

Review Time Again! The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

I think Mella may have recommended this one, I was a little skeptical at first. As a reader, I am slow to catch on to allegories and allusions sometimes, especially when they are Biblical (or Biblical AND Faustian, in this case). Or 1930's Russian. Thank God for footnotes.

Part one of this book is set in Moscow in the 1930's. A couple of guys are out and about and they run into a stranger who tells them a short narrative from the perspective of Pontius Pilate and tells one of them he's going to die. Then one of them abruptly dies and the other goes mad. The rest of the first chapter is the stranger's three entertaining minions wreaking havoc on Moscow, stealing the dead guy's apartment for the stranger and driving people mad. The first guy who goes mad meets his neighbor in the asylum, a man only called the Master (cue Doctor Who joke re: sound of drums). The Master wrote a poorly received manuscript about Pontius Pilate (the story we first heard?) and went mad when it was roundly (and publicly?!) rejected by all the critics.

Now I have to say, I was skeptical about part one. It is very hard to keep track of who is going mad and who is being persecuted by the stranger's henchmen. Also, no sympathetic characters have really shown up except the mad poet and the Master, and we don't see a ton of either of them as there are so many characters with long Russian names having their lives entertainingly ruined by the minions. One of whom is a talking cat named Behemoth. So extra points for Behemoth.

However, part two is worth it, as it is much more straightforward. Here we really meet Margarita, who was mentioned by the Master in part one. She is unhappily married and in love with the Master, who is still in the asylum after burning his manuscript. She has saved what she could of his manuscript and still pines for him. The stranger devil's minions show up and offer her a deal - she basically goes with them and they promise her happiness. Having nothing to lose by now, off she goes, becomes a witch, incidentally takes revenge on the Master's critics, and presides over the devil's masked ball (this was where I really enjoyed having the footnotes to figure out who all the guests were). She is a great character and the devil rewards her in the end. And then we're back to the story of Pontius Pilate. I don't want to completely spoiler-ize this thing but it all adds up fairly well in the end and I am glad I bulled through part one. But I still feel like I need to read up on PP as I'm sure I missed out on a lot of the nuance of the Pilate storyline. Overall, very interesting though and thanks for whoever gave me the recommendation!

And just for kicks:

1 comment:

Mella DP said...

I did read that last spring, and yeah, the first part is pretty odd. (Did you notice the part in the restaurant where a pirate randomly shows up?) I think you'd probably like his SciFi (think of a satirical Jules Verne) - I read The Fatal Eggs (clever) and Heart of a Dog (disturbing, but I liked it).